Writhing with anticipation after the two-year wait, we skipped eagerly into the cinema, so desperately early that we were the first four girls in the auditorium. We selected seats and wiggled into comfy positions, ready for several hours of what can only be described as cinematic glitter. More women trickled (or rather, leapt) into the room, gaggles of girlfriends squealing together, others dragging reluctant boyfriends in their wake. An assault of perfume ads and make-up commercials, then the lights faded and the trailers began – upcoming chick flicks, naturally – until, finally, the big, spangly titles flashed up, accompanied by the iconic theme music (brought bang up to date for 2010 by Ms Alicia Keyes). And lo, what didn’t Michael Patrick King bring us? He forgot nothing, neglected nil. Fashion, sex, scandal, laughter, enormous bouncing bosoms and a whole male rugby team clad only in Speedos. A gay wedding complete with swans, an array of candy-pink cupcakes, Liza Minnelli and Miley Cyrus, lavish apartments and hotel suites, and the most adorable child you’ve ever seen (although, granted, also one of the most annoying ones). And Aidan. Oh Aidan.
There’s no need to mourn for SATC past. The film is steeped in nostalgia; flashbacks and reminiscences abound. A glorious 80s sequence reveals our heroines in garish neon get-ups – a little predictable, yes, but satisfying nonetheless. And, of course, that infamous pink tutu gets another fleeting but obligatory appearance.
Remember Carrie’s old apartment? When she decides to spend two days there to focus on her writing, it’s less about her marital problems and more about the need for us (and her) to re-live the good times spent in that quirky little space. Appalled as we are at Big’s suggestion – why not spend two days apart every week? (‘The bastard!!!!’) – we can’t help but secretly hope for more opportunities to return to her bachelorette palace. The new apartment is boring. It has an uncomfortable-looking couch and a weird writing desk in the bedroom that Carrie would surely never be seen dead sitting at.
There are ‘man’ flashbacks too. Breathtaking Smith returns briefly to flex his muscles for us once more. Big prompts aaahhhs from the audience as he rolls up to Carrie’s brownstone in his chauffeured car like it’s ten years ago, lowers the window with his characteristic wink and calls her ‘kid’ despite the fact she’s suddenly forty-something. And Aidan is back. Oh Aidan. Appearing in the midst of chaos like a genie from a gilded bottle, he’s as tall and beautiful as ever, and even more impossibly charming, and it’s not just SJP who leans in for that kiss….
I’ve heard it said of this film that nothing really happens. But who needs a clever or convoluted plot when there’s so much female drama to enjoy? We’re treated, as usual, to plenty of Carrie drama and Samantha drama. When aren’t we? But I was moved more by the trials of the other two. Charlotte, who’s always maintained perfect composure, who can see the best in any situation – gliding effortlessly through infertility and divorce – now after so many years loses control amidst a sea of cupcakes. And locks herself in the pantry. Miranda: the eternally cool and pragmatic working mother, oozing endless irony – she, too, loses it and quits her job on the spot. It’s oddly refreshing that these two characters, who’ve always been there as props, as the stabilisers to Carrie’s wobbly bike, finally crumble. Is it heart-wrenching or heartening to see them fail at the only things their characters have truly revolved around: Charlotte at domesticity and Miranda at her career? It leads us to that wonderful scene at the hotel bar when they realise they don’t need Carrie and Samantha to resuscitate them; they can revive each other, and also (yes!) make the audience laugh.
As for the clothes, I daren’t even try to do them justice. Patricia Field, the show’s wacky stylist, must have been aiming for audience reactions of absolute awe; utter disbelief. We gasp, we ogle, we whistle, we sigh. With some of the ensembles, the mind truly boggles. The garments are impossible, impractical and at times totally inappropriate. SJP in a strange little tux and dickie bow, complete with badly dyed frizzy hair. A too-big-even-for-a-wedding hat, donned, of all places, on a long-haul flight. Garish gold-sequinned harem pants; floor-length gowns for riding camels; awkwardly out-of-place Dior worn to browse a ramshackle market; weapon-like Lady GaGa-style epaulettes protruding from Samantha’s shoulders; a scandalously high split in Carrie’s skirt which flashes more thigh than is shrewd in a fiercely Muslim country. These aren’t clothes for real women. These are clothes for these four women. And for our gratification.
On the whole, the official reviews have been bad. But on the whole, they’ve been written by men, and why get a man to review a film for girls? (Because let’s not fool ourselves here, that’s what it is.) What were the papers thinking, commissioning male reviewers? ‘Let’s see if this is a film for everyone’? And don’t those unwilling boyfriends know the answer – they’re simply here to pay penance for leaving the toilet seat up, or using the C word. (I notice as the titles roll that one of them has already rolled his jumper into a make-shift pillow.) So, there’s just one measly star from the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, Andrew O’Hagan from the Evening Standard hates it, and Tim Robey at the Telegraph gives it a resounding thumbs-down. So what? That won’t stop the hordes of women from popping along to judge for themselves.
Peter Bradshaw (note the surname!) goes to town on the Abu Dhabi setting, mentioning it a total of 15 times. His fixation with the film’s location made me notice that I haven’t felt the need to mention it at all. The exotic backdrop didn’t overwhelm my enjoyment of the plot, or smack too heavily of promotion (though I do suspect that Pringles paid for their bit of brazen product placement). The holiday scenario simply seemed a clever way to squeeze even more out of characters who, bless them, have already been contorted in every direction to give us over 10 years of entertainment. And yes, although it’s true that we already had a holiday moment in SATC1, that was with Jilted Carrie, whilst this one is with Cheating Carrie, which makes it entirely different! Be fair – allow the writers this one mechanism for keeping things fresh and different. New York City isn’t infinite and we’ve been granted 94 episodes and one feature-length film with which to quench our thirst. Why shouldn’t a different locale be employed to provide new inspiration for their witty lines and sharp observations, even if all it does is highlight how much the characters are products of commercial America, weaned on glitz and consumerism and over-priced shoes. Peter Bradshaw may believe SATC fans simply want to see the big city, but I think he’s wrong: we just want Carrie and her gang. And while I’ve prepared myself for the reality that SATC 3 may never happen, if it does and it’s set on the moon, I’ll still rock up to check it out. Moon or no moon, I’ll love it regardless because, quite frankly, I’m prepared to love to anything that affords me a few more precious hours with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, however old and wrinkly they may become.